While there is no dearth of critique of the religious Majoritarianism, the view that comes harsh on the sacred for intruding into the public sphere, there is really a lacuna in terms of the dissent from the religious and even the few attempts to do the same is forestalled. This piece is to question the Secular Majoritarianism, the dangerous variety of Secularism which does not critique the sacred but seeks to erase and deny the legitimate forms of religious dissent within the public sphere. The erasure of the religious is conflated as the critique legitimized. This form of dissent and freedom of speech is selectively pitted against a particular section of the civil society i.e. The Christian and seeks to erase their cultural persona. Here the Christians are not presumed as the minorities as created in the mainstream discourse in need of special rights in the public domain but as rightful citizens of the nation who have a stake in the nation-making yet who are pariahs at the borderlands of citizenship and nation making. In a metropolitan space where the Hindus to the Jains enjoy and have a sense of citizenry and ‘their’ cultural and the traditional values in this ethos i.e. within the student body is valued and celebrated, the Christian is the ultimate pariah, the foreigner who has no name and face. S/he is the one who has to provide health care and education through its institutional persona yet remain at the margins as an individual person. This piece equally aims to look within, i.e. the Christian as the corporal as a failed idea for which the Christians ought to share the blame here in Delhi, the Capital of the Hindustanis. This is also a partial response to a pertinent question from my Tamil Muslim friend based in Delhi “Why are Christian academics so few in number ?” The piece will hint at an answer.
A little nostalgia
The quarters in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu where I reside is visited often by a Muslim aunt who comes to fetch water and my Hindu neighbours and uncles who pester my Appa for morning walks, as he often dozes off to skip those.One sees there a sense of belonging and community in a semi-urban locale that moves beyond the wry ‘secular’chants of ‘unity in diversity’. In such a set-up, the fantasies of a ‘much-better-world’ in Delhi also come easy.
Now imagine a fast journey covering 2500 km on the Rajdhani Express towards Delhi. This ‘posh’ world-class train that keeps ranting Hindi greetings, even as the train has barely left Chennai Central. It is continuous violence on your ears as they play monotonous Hindi tunes of the 1980s incessantly,something that even the northern-belt Honey Singh lovers would find harsh to endure. And this is how one feels one has entered the Nation! So my piece comes in the context of this journey, both literal and otherwise.
On being a bahujan student in the ‘nation’s capital’
This piece aims to look at the violence that is perpetrated on the Bahujan students in an alien city which they are made to believe to be their ‘own’ capital but is in fact, to put it precisely, the Capital of Hindustanis. I would like to extend the idea of Bahujans to include Christians, something that even Braj Ranjan Mani proposed in one of his recent addresses. And also queers, North Easterners, Kashmiris and even the poorest of ‘Hindus’. This piece looks at the soft, cultural violence faced by the Bahujan students in educational institutions and specifically in a hostel setting, which is one’s second home. I do not wish to conflate the idea that the violence perpetrated on a few is the norm throughout the student spaces in Delhi but it hints at the malaise that is invisible and is a possibility throughout other spaces inhabited by Bahujan students.
If religious majoritarianism comes under constant attack by the progressive, ‘casteless’ seculars here in Delhi through numerous dharnas and is given much space for articulation, this article is concerned with questioning the ‘secular’ Brahmanism perpetrated on the Bahujans and this is a cursory glance and an attempt. This piece specifically arises out of two events. The first event, the denial of permission to a proposed discussion in one of the men’s hostels in Delhi. And second, the tearing of the poster of Babasaheb Ambedkar from the shelf in my hostel room.
The proposed Easter event was a discussion at a men’s hostel affiliated to the University of Delhi, which was not merely an exclusively Christian event but one that would have critiqued the ideals of organized and institutionalized Christian religion while engaging with the liberative ideals of Christ in the hostel where the brothers of different faiths and also the Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics, where all would have benefited while contributing to the proposed dialogue. A discussion was to be conducted on Easter Day hosting persons representing the views of a Secular–Atheist, a Muslim and a Dalit Woman Theologian, a Liberal Hindu friend (though he got himself fixed for a different appointment at the time of the proposal and was not part of the proposed schedule).
The background to this is as following: from observing Hindu festivals where the entire hostel is expected to forgo their non-vegetarian preferences for a week, which happens twice a year, to observing Mahavir Jayanti, we admire the respect and tolerance towards other faiths and their lifestyle.
I do not wish to write this only because I happen to be Christian and the one who proposed the idea but I am doing so as it was equally inspired by other friends who are not Christians and whose work is commendable by all standards. In fact, I resisted writing this piece when the first event was denied but was compelled to do so as the second event, the tearing of Ambedkar’s poster, ensued. I was extremely homesick, stressed and was unable to take the toll on my personal well-being due to the absence of my community here and the void which was hammered into me in terms of not belonging here had thrown me into a whirlpool of dark emotions. I even went to the extent of having a pet dog for a week in my room (having a puppy in a hostel room is not a cool deal bro!). Such was and is the antagonism of the well-read people which was offset partially by having a puppy!
As a Christian by choice and reason rather than by the coercion of my parents, I believe in working towards the bringing together of different communities, in all possible ways I can and with the best of intentions. Not to work within a tokenist creed of ‘Unity in Diversity’ but about understanding differences and heterodoxy in constant conversation with each other. I am writing neither from an anti-personal stance nor a clash of egos, which is the easiest criticism to gloss over the points of debate here, but as it is about the existing and living together of different faiths and persuasions, this needs to be articulated.
The need to look within
At the outset I should begin with some internal critique.The Christian community as such does not exist here. I do not mean the Christian communities that one imagines around mere buildings and posh Churches but by Church I mean a person, the personal embrace of the last/lost sheep, the prodigal sons and daughters and going the extra mile as the Samaritan. In fact, not an abstract entity but that which is relational, personal and actional. Ambedkar states in his essay, ‘Christianizing the Untouchables’ that “The Christian community is a composite community…In all places it is divided into high class and low class. The educated class is largely drawn from the touchable or the higher class. This educated class being detached from the lower or the untouchable class of Christians is not charged with the wants, the pains, cravings, desires, aspirations of the latter and does not care for their interest. The untouchable Christians are therefore leaderless and therefore unable to mobilize for the redress of their wrongs.”
The Christian Church, especially for the Bahujans here in Delhi is indeed an idea and practice which has failed and continues to fail to take into account the complexities of the sufferings faced by the Bahujan students (the Dalits, Adivasis, Women, North Easterners, Queers). But the work of the North Eastern congregations for the students from the NE Region is worth mentioning as they have a solid sense of togetherness and moral support to carry each other’s burdens at least at a psycho-spiritual level. The students especially from non-elite backgrounds and from distant lands are not only in search of intellectual endeavours, our yearnings as students are not stuffed and dumped with books but positive friendship, music, adventure, uplifting conversations and a cause that is higher, that transcends the mundane human existence.
I put the primary blame on the Christians for failing deliberately and being caught in a sense of I-centered consumerist religion which is becoming nothing short of a New Age cult. Christian students from North East, the locals and students from the southern states should share the blame for failing to create a space of togetherness but also the failure to participate as citizens for things that concern everyone within the university and other student spaces. The event that was proposed would have brought brothers of different faiths here in the hostel into conversation and dialogue with Christianity as a faith while also critiquing it. After all I wasn’t calling the Atheists, Seculars and Muslims to proselytize and convert the entire hostel!
Another backdrop to the events is also that the Bahujans- Dalits, OBCs, Christians, North Easterners and some progressive liberals did have a positive and active role to elect a person from an oppressed location into power in the hostel student union election and bringing a Kashmiri person into power is not a cake walk especially here in Delhi. The complicity of the Christians and other Bahujans towards the issue of self-determination and autonomy of the Kashmiri persons is shameful and that needs to be mentioned here and accepted without contention. Despite the erasure of a Christian as a person and a doubly-erased Christian within this ‘statistical’ Christian community who has been at the receiving end of abuse and contempt towards Christians as foreigners and proselytizing agents whose contributions to the nation are erased, one continues to contribute selflessly as much as any other Indian in terms of the education, health care, et al.
The best I could do for a person who belongs to the Land that is already filled with Pain, is to recognize fully his aspirations and his merit as a person, without being paternalistic and patronizing. It was a dramatic event that took place to see him take the chair, i.e. it was not only to recognize his personal merit but his race and his culture. To divest powers for the least and the last, that is what I have believed and practiced ,which also pits me against some of my kith and kin in the Christian faith who work on the lines of a dry,inflexible organized religion. Especially Christ’s words, “So the last shall be first, and the first last…” are more relevant for the present, the conception which Frantz Fanon borrowed in terms of decolonization. It is a faith which I follow and also critique, in all the ‘minor’ ways I can, on the same footing for reasons like the Woman’s position and the systemic failure of churches to let into its fold Transgendered persons and Queer persons as active participants.
So my experiential theology is not the dabbling of a dry, high-theory, unearthly esoteric though one admits that it is needed to situate the nuanced positions better yet has little relevance for the pragmatics of the suffering persons in the daily realm. This theology from experience is actional and inter-personal, which reaches out to the mundane aspects and ordinarypersons . My theology is not merely about suffering but a theology that suffers with the suffering, a theology that is a person. A theology that is not a meta-narrative but a micro-narrative concerned about the invisible. It is this theology that goads me in love towards the friends and ‘others’ here in this place which is of,by and for the elites, am repeatedly at odds within myself to think of an idea of strangeness within this faith. My world is about fraternity in season and out of season, never one about anti-person but a co-existence alongside fierce contest of practical ideas and beliefs. It is indeed this fact ofactional love that drives me towards questioning of this Secular Brahmanism as much as am appalled by the religious bigotry in places like USA towards the European Bahujans ! It is not necessary that one chants blindly about Phule and Ambedkar without understanding the faith that Phule and the advocacy of Ambedkar for religious minorities like the Christians.
The second event that happened was not merely personal but was meant to attack the community through the personal (while obviously the personal is marked within the community.) It is equally my grounding as an Ambedkarite Christian that has hurt some insecure persons and I am immensely indebted to my community on social media that continues to be a moral pillar in tougher times while the ‘actual’ communities continue to fail and fall. The violation is not that a person enters the sphere but it is to invade a community that works towards a positive and constructive present and future. This is reminiscent of how the men of elite castes invade the bodies of women of lower castes and also how the hetero-sexists invade that of other gender minorities.
Delhi and what it does to those from the margins
The denial of permission to celebrate Easter and the tearing of Ambedkar’s poster has subtle connections. The first worked on the idea of denying the minorities a space of articulation and dissent and ironically the denial came from the very person who is a secular, champion of all human rights among other good things. One cannot hide behind any labels of oppression, that of being a Dalit, a Christian, a Muslim, Kashmiri or a Queer while acting as an authoritarian and a perpetrator of violence. This is not a blot that affected personal egos and sensitivities but it brings to the fore the fault lines that exist which no Bahujans can afford to be played into, especially at the hands of religious and cultural chauvinists. Such denial affects the positive roles cultural, religious, gendered, regional and linguistic minorities can play in exclusive spaces like Delhi.
I am not speaking of the rights for the minorities but civil liberties that apply to everyone in this nation-state. One would note that the oppressed in Delhi are caught in a whirlpool of one-upmanship against each other. Two Muslims tearing the poster of Ambedkar while fellow Muslims remain silent in a hostel about this is nothing but active participation in the crime. I am yet to understand the audacity of the two persons acting in unison to enter my room, while I went away, and to tear the poster from my shelf. One must, however, also laud the other Muslim brothers who transcend such bigotry to build multicultural communities. Such cowardly acts try to erase the contributions of the cultural and religious minorities who are already denied legitimacy and visibility.
The contest arising out of petty egos between different oppressed sections of students at times unsettles the unity between these sections. Within this formation of the Bahujans, the trend of foregrounding a particular section like the dominant OBCs and the progressive ‘Seculars’ who only exploit the groundwork from other oppressed sections yet disregard the Dalits, Christians, North Eastern students and the queers in terms of leadership are ways of continued Brahmanism which the once-oppressed seem to retain.
This trend where the ‘Other Bahujans’ are used and reduced as unthinking bodies works on the premise of illogical hierarchies and fixed positions for persons in the casteist, homophobic and patriarchal frame, the very ideas some seculars claim to work against. This is nothing short of reverse Brahmanism which is raised on the edifice of eternal inequality. This hypocrisy of double play is one that needs to be critiqued rather than any personal traits, styles and methods of working.
One cannot miss the fact about the contempt attached to work and labour by the neo-Brahmans and the subsequent relegation of the Bahujans to margins thus locking them into subjugation and silence. It is not a coincidence that for the seculars, the Bahujans will remain their ‘best friends’ yet without visibility as equal stakeholders as participants,which is an ingenious ploy by the elites. Here it is not only the internal unity of the Bahujans and minorities that matters but constant dialogue,conversation and the need for critique if and when there is a point of departure of the shared values and goals. Unless the oppressed Bahujans stick together towards the shared goals and objectives for the long term and do not get caught in a game of power-bickering and wallowing in the mud of power, it is a labour in loss to reach such exclusive spaces like Delhi.
Power for the Bahujans is essential for mutual liberation and emancipation and not for decimating each other. The genuine reason for people of various creeds and beliefs coming together and working for a person from an oppressed location rose from the ideas of recognizing the merits and worth of the culturally-denigrated than about birth-based recognition, one of the hallmarks of cultural majoritarianism. It is the logic of equality and fraternity that has worked all through but if this is disregarded in the useless contests of personal egos, it is not only a betrayal of one’s dubious politics but a soft crime that is perpetrated on the sweat of Bahujans, both of the past and the present.
“…am I my Brother’s keeper ?”
The graded hierarchy has worked itself all through the events mentioned in this piece. Just as the first event was denied on the premise of a technical error, i.e. a signature was missing, in spite of the fact that there were others to carry out the program with a fresh letter. Of course the technical error is regretted but one cannot build an entire discourse on the technical which is but a mask for secular hypocrisy. This desire to oppress another minority is so shoddy given the fact that people are involved in Social Sciences where such persons are the students of Srinivas and Dumont who rule the roost by building their knowledge industry through decimating Ambedkars, Phules, Ayothee Thassars, Ayyankalis, Savitribhais and Birsa Mundas.
Thus what such events connote is a form of citizenship that is built on excluding the linguistic-cum-cultural world and persons from the non-Hindi belt who come to Delhi in search of some space and belonging which is also about nation-making and citizenship. What the soft violence on the private sphere and the Christian community connotes is the disgust and paranoia towards ‘foreignness’ that is attached on us as aliens in terms of religion in the first event and as the cultural and linguistic strangers in the second.
The Minority thus in practice is devoid of the ‘sense of suffering’ for the ‘immediate other’ and the loss for the Bahujans is the inability to translate their internal suffering to understand and embrace the suffering of the neighbour. The condition of the Bahujans and the minorities is like Cain in the Old Testament who after murdering his elder brother Abel asks “…am I my Brother’s keeper ? ” We as minorities and Bahujans have failed consciously to be the caretakers of our brothers and sisters. We cannot afford to be at each other’s throats when we do not have a stable ground in terms of the cultural and theeconomical which reflects itself in the political. It is these material conditions we have created among ourselves that create the suitable ambience for the nation-making that disregards our aspirations.
The continued denial of dialogue and discussion will aid in cultural erasure and death of the legacies of our foremothers and fathers in the long run if we let petty animosities take over the essential and urgent priorities at hand. As underprivileged communities, we cannot remain silent about such personsamongst us who will erase our efforts through self-destructive egotistical actions. Thus, it needs to be understood that this violence and counter-violence between the oppressed will backfire and subsume our own voices which are already conveniently erased and appropriated by the elite discourse.
Such brigades of the casteless, what-suites-me-secularists cannot be the solution for the daily, material issues faced by the Bahujans here in the student spaces and are a betrayal of their positive hopes. For the Bahujan, the enemy cannot be one’s own brother and sister but the knowledge-power nexus that is waiting to swallow our struggles in the name of “Majoritarian-coloured and appropriated Ambedkar”, to claims of Aligarh Muslim University as the idea of some old King and to appropriate it into the hegemonic space. Lewis Gordon’s view on Fanon in his work Fanon and the crisis of European man has resonance for the Bahujans here in Delhi, “Like the African American,Fanon finds himself inextricably linked to a society that not only rejects him, but also attempts to deny his existence as a legitimate point of view.” The Bahujans in power fail to note that that legitimacy does not come from institutions and power alone but also from each other, our communities, constructive multi-cultural and multi-faith friendships.
The chance is now
The time is now for those at the helm of student affairs to take stock of what it is to be human in the first place and completely undo oneself from the image of ourselves that is dominated by the European-Brahmanical nexus of capitalist consumerism-cum-inequality. The image of the man that we have created for ourselves is of the Superman of the Nietzsche, whose Superman per se was modeled on Manu’s human. One cannot attack the Brahman while remaining the neo-Brahman, few things are more hilarious and obnoxious than such a fact. The foundations and frameworks upon which some of us work and view each other needs a thorough re-look, the tendency to disengage oneself from mutually-edifying conversations and dialogues are so tempting but it is very necessary and urgent to sit and talk despite the hurts that ache our souls and life, a journey that is bittersweet.
To conclude with Fanon would be apt. His conclusion in Wretched of the Earth ends with this clarion call,
“So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her…For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”
We would do better if we took this seriously and got into a dialogue to know and smash the negative and distorted images of our brothers and sisters that we have created and perpetuated for ages, the images that are built on inequality and violence rather than equality, brotherhood,sisterhood and queerhood, The call is more urgent than ever and the crisis is a chance and that chance is now.
Trevor Jeyaraj is pursuing M. Phil. English Literature from the University of Delhi. He daydreams that one day the world of humans would be like the one of the Mynas, Squirrels, Pigeons and Dogs that hang out together in the Arts Faculty, DU.